Americans can help in fight against terror
PRESCOTT Terrorism has always existed; however, with recent advances in telecommunications and technology and high-profile attacks such as those on Sept. 11, 2001 it has risen to the forefront of America's consciousness.
In the past five years, terrorism has become a prominent issue in the lives of common Americans as they strive to learn more about what's behind it and whether they can prevent it.
"Terrorism has always been around," said Richard Bloom, terrorism specialist and dean of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's College of Arts and Sciences. "Now it looks bigger and badder because of advances in telecommunications."
Before Sept. 11, 2001, he said, most people thought of terrorism as "one or more discrete events."
Now, they think of it as a continuing trend among organized terrorist enterprises.
And while, five years ago, people believed the fight against terrorism was a military one, they now know that it is a political and psychological fight.
Phil Jones, an ERAU intelligence studies professor and a specialist in terrorism and the Middle East, said during an interview Thursday that the fight is against a group of religious extremists who believe it is their holy duty to defend their religion.
"You really must know who your enemy is," he said, cautioning citizens not to generalize all Islamic people as war-seeking terrorists.
Although Jones doesn't believe Americans have a deep knowledge of the Middle East or of Islam, he said that as a fairly religious people in general, Americans are more ready to understand the deep religious roots of people who join terrorist groups.
"This is a period characterized by religious extremism," he said.
Many of the young extremist Muslims who participate in terrorism are "deeply impressed by their religious duty," Jones said, "and they're more willing to act, more willing to believe in the impassioned, ecstatic sense" of the religion.
Islam calls for its followers to protect their holy land and many of the extremist Muslims would like to take over all the land in the Middle East that Muslims once ruled, Jones said.
Anger because of U.S. military forces' presence in part of that land Saudi Arabia may have been part of what triggered Osama bin Laden to plot the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Jones said.
In America, Bloom said, people can help fight against terrorism by working to be good citizens. They can stay informed through many sources of media and they can then vote for leaders who they believe will help lead the best kind of counterattack on terrorism.
A change in the U.S. government's energy policy also may help, Bloom said, because money the U.S. pays for oil eventually filters down to terrorist organizations in the countries where American companies buy oil.
Another good tactic in the war on terror is to change terrorists' perceptions of the U.S., Bloom said.
Also, Bloom said, it's easy for people in other countries to perceive the United States government's foreign policy as hypocritical.
For example, although Bush sent the U.S. military to Iraq to build a democracy there, the U.S. government gives large amounts of money to Egypt which is not a democracy.
While the governments of the U.S. and its allies forced Iraq's Saddam Hussein to give up nuclear weapons, Israel still has them and receives money from the U.S.
Terrorists and their supporters, because they believe they're fighting for a good cause, don't believe they're evil. So when they hear diplomats refer to them as evil, Bloom said, "that makes it worse."
"We need to send out messages that we respect others," he said. "And we need foreign policy that supports that."
Today, it's easier than ever to send out messages which Bloom said directly contributes to what Jones called a "rising force" of terrorism.
Terrorists want to cause terror and they can do so now more easily than ever because of advances in telecommunications. Also, telecommunications allow what Bloom called "lone rangers" to start their own groups that emulate other groups or individual terrorists.
And better technology allows terrorists to kill more people at one time. Bloom said bloody surprise attacks play to terrorists' strengths since they don't have huge military power to carry out their attacks.
The bottom line: While America is better prepared for terrorism now than it was five years ago, "the threat will continue," Jones said.
In the long-term, he said, "Terrorism never ends up working. It has a life cycle. Terrorism is a tactic. If terrorism isn't working, they'll find something else."